Winter Colds - how to manage your families health

Winter is well and truly upon us bringing with it an army of viruses that seem to have a particular fondness for children. As a paediatrician specialising in respiratory disease this is my busiest time of the year. Here is some practical advice on the most common symptoms many children experience at this time of the year.

Cough is the most common presentation I see in my clinic. Coughing is a normal reflex and is an important method for the body to clear infection from the lungs. Most coughs are caused by viruses, tend to be dry and clear up in one to two weeks. Occasionally a (post) viral cough can last up to 6 weeks and this can be alarming for parents. Provided the cough is dry and the child is otherwise well it is generally safe to wait it out.

Antibiotics are not helpful in these cases. Commercial cough syrups should be avoided (especially in children under 6) as research shows they have little effect and can be harmful as they may contain ingredients such as antihistamines and codeine. On the other hand honey has been shown to ease dry cough and is safe in children from one year of age.

Croup is one of the most alarming types of coughs for parents. It is typically characterised as a ‘seal-like’ cough often accompanied by a harsh high-pitched noise called a stridor. The symptoms often start without warning and typically at night. Most croup is caused by a virus and it is most common between 6 months and 3 years of age.The best thing you can do for a croupy child it to keep them calm and distracted such as by reading them a book. Interventions such as steam and humidifiers are not thought to be useful. Bring you child to hospital if they are struggling to breath, appear pale and lethargic or they are drooling excessively.

Asthma is always worse in wintertime and accounts for a large proportion of children’s emergency presentations. This can be a very stressful time for parents whose children have asthma. There are several things that can be done to reduce this risk.

Firstly visit your child’s doctor for a check up and updated asthma action plan.Ensure you child is taking their preventer as prescribed.Recognise your own child’s triggers and avoid if possible. If your child has exercise symptoms they might benefit from taking their reliever before sport and ensuring they do a good warm up and warm down.

Finally a word about the flu vaccine. Last winter both of Sydney’s major children’s hospitals were slammed with record number of flu related illnesses with children under 5 and those with underlying lung conditions particularly at risk.

The flu vacccine is available for all children aged 6 months and above. Please ask your doctor for more information.

Dr John Widger is a Paediatric Respiratory and Sleep Physician based at Sydney Children’s hosptial he is also a local dad.